Some of you know that I attempted to hike 40 or so miles through Maryland on the Appalachian Trail a couple weeks ago. I didn’t hike as far as I wanted to.
Dave dropped me off at Pen Mar Park about 9:30 a.m. and I eagerly started out.
I walked a flat mile or so and then it happened. The rocks. I heard about the rocks. My poles saved my ankles and knees a few times as I maneuvered up and down and around the boulders. Suddenly, the trail went up and up and up. Then up some more. ON THE ROCKS.
How I dreamed of the A.T.
How the A.T. actually is.
I didn’t push myself, I was slow and deliberate in my steps. My thoughts kept reminding me of the view that awaited me at the top. And I did it! I made it to High Rock Overlook. The day was so clear and perfect. I took a few photos and had a little snack. The climb was worth it today! My spirits were good!
I continued on and started going down, down, down and down again! Then finally I saw a sign for the Rock Haven Shelter. It was literally a haven from the rocks. I was going to hike more miles, but decided 6 miles was enough for my first day.
Since I was the first one there, I had my pick of the spots in the shelter. It was a very nice shelter, as I understand, it is one of the nicest around. I unpacked my gear and set up my pad, sleeping bag, changed my clothes, found the privy and then decided to figure out the bear bag cables.
The cables were easy enough to figure out, but the cable snagged on itself as I was trying to reattach it to the tree. As I was struggling, three men walked toward me and one offered his kind assistance. After he helped me, he looked crazy at me and asked if I knew that I hadn’t attached my food bag to the cable. Hahaha. I told him I was only practicing for later!
Mine is the green one!
I learned that the kind man that helped me with the bear bag cables is an Assistant Leader for a Boy Scout Troop. It made me relieved that someone who knew camping was sheltering with me! We all know accidents can happen though and as he was making his dinner he poured boiling water all over his left hand – and – he didn’t have a first aid kit! WHAT??!!!??? What kind of Boy Scout is this?? Lucky for him I had packed the world’s largest first aid kit and gave him some salve for the burn. Another man hiking with him had a 60 pound pack – yes, 60 pounds. He proceeded to bring out boxes of crackers, 2 pounds of almonds and a can of black beans. I was shaking my head in disbelief. I thought I would be the one burning myself and carrying the crazy amount of weight. The same man later on pulled out raw Italian sausages from his pack and proceeded to cook them over the campfire. A thru-hiker sitting at the campfire said in all his 68 days on trail he had never seen anyone cook Italian sausage over a campfire. He also said the craziest thing he had seen was a woman hiking while eating an entire head of lettuce like it was an apple. Ooookay.
The shelter was packed with hikers and the surrounding area was dotted with bright tents. As we settled down for sleep around 8:30 I was WIDE AWAKE. It was only when the hiker next to me started to snore that I fell asleep. He sounded just like my husband! During the night I woke up a few time to sounds of multi pitch snoring, sleeping bags crinkling against their pads as sleepers rolled over and random whispering. All in all, I had a decent sleep.
All the hikers started to roll out of their beds about 6:30 or so. I took my time. A nice woman from Switzerland had helped me put up my food bag the night before on the cables and she was so nice she brought it back down when she retrieved her own bag in the morning. I made some food, but was feeling tired. I dilly dallied and swept out the shelter after everyone left. First one in, last one out.
The energetic feeling of joy wasn’t in me. I was feeling different. My legs were very wobbly. I was worried about every little thing. I was constantly checking my guthook app for where I was and how far I had to go to the next shelter or the next water. And I hadn’t even gone that far yet!
Although I triumphantly gathered my own water at a waterfall, I was feeling gloomy, no matter how hard I tried to cheer myself up. I was going down hill for about a mile. Then, I saw a road, multiple vehicles were parked along the shoulder and day hikers were all around the trail. A nice woman smiled at me. I kept going. I crossed the road. I crossed a creek. I started to climb up and up and up. Then I saw a black snake.
Cool! I was hoping to see some wildlife. I kept going. Then I saw a big rock, felt my legs wobble and promptly sat on said rock. Gloomily, I watched day hikers and thru hikers confidently pass me. I texted my husband. I did not cry. My face felt hot. My mind was swirling. I simply did not want to continue. I gave up. I quit.
I walked back to road. I waited for that nice woman that smiled at me earlier to finish her hike. I finally saw her and I leaped into her arms. Well, not really. That would have been funny, but I don’t think I could have lifted my legs up high enough to leap. The nice woman – my trail angel – gave me a ride to a gas station/deli then an hour later came back and drove me further to Frederick so my brother in law could “rescue” me there. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Alys!
But, what just happened?
In the immediate days following I faked being positive and upbeat about my adventure, actually my stomach hurt, my heart hurt and I wanted to crawl into bed and hide. I thought I was giving up on my dream. After some reflection and long talks with my husband, my dream to thru hike has not dimmed. In fact, I am more determined than ever to set myself up for success.
I don’t want to die with dreams left inside of me.
This failed hike did what it was supposed to! I got to know my gear, and most importantly I learned what I need to change. What would I change about my gear? Not much, maybe ditch half the first aid and find a lighter tent. What else could I change? I have regrets. The next hike I do, I will have no regrets. I should have re-read my Why’s before calling it quits. In the moment I didn’t think I could take one more step, looking back, I don’t think I pushed myself hard enough. I’m disappointed in myself. I’m proud of myself, too, though. I was brave to even try.
The biggest (pun intended) change needed is that I am not physically ready. If I want to continue this journey for thru hiking the Appalachian Trail I will need to be more focused on my health and strength starting now. How exciting!